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Jun. 10 2009 - 2:09 pm | 11 views | 1 recommendation | 1 comment

Women: Indecipherable / Men: Dumb

Bar Girls

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Even in my most single of single days, I was never much for the bar scene. I have the social personality of an Asperger’s grizzly bear, and my chances of success in any given outing were what one might term “less than a sure thing.” And I didn’t help those around me much, either. I believe the term “World’s Worst Wingman” may have been applied on more than one occasion (a role I still play from time-to-time).

As such, I’m a bit fascinated by how people operate in such settings, from an intellectual perspective. Kind of like wondering how bees build a hive. It’s high pressure, it’s complicated, and it’s pretty much essential to the continuation of the species.

The other day, I posted a Nano on research showing that men prefer direct pick up lines (ideal: “Please come back to my apartment and **** me. Or, your place is fine, too. There’s also a motel nearby.”). One might assume that this preference is a direct result of certain male characterisitics: being terrible at reading social situations, being too lazy to read social situations, being interested just in sex and not in conversation.

A study out of Germany, however, shifts a little bit of the blame to… women. Psyblog writes up the experiment:

Grammer et al. (2000) videotaped opposite sex pairs meeting for the first time to catch the nuances of body language in the first 10 minutes of an interaction. Afterwards women were asked how much interest they had in the man they’d been talking to. The researchers revealed two counter-intuitive results:

  • In the first minute women behaved no differently to men they fancied than those they didn’t. They sent many positive nonverbal signals to all the men and hardly any negative signals.
  • It is only between the 4th and 10th minute that any correlation was seen between an increased sending of positive nonverbal behaviours and wanting to date the man. But even then the difference was only between some positive signals and slightly more positive signals. Again negative signals were very rare.

The reason men prefer a direct approach becomes clearer. Women may think they are sending out all the right nonverbal signals and may blame men for failing to pick up on them. But from a man’s perspective there may often be little to pick up on because women, being polite, are always sending positive nonverbal signals.

In the absence of interpretable nonverbal signals, what does the average guy have to go on other than directly expressed interest?

Well, he can battle through those 10 minutes and see what happens. But 10 minutes is an eternity in awkward bar pickup time (I’ve never experienced smooth bar pickup time — I assume it goes faster).

Of course, for all the study in the world, people will keep being people. Women will keep being indirect; and men will keep having no friggin’ clue what they’re getting at. And, as usual, someone will have to go first (usually the man) and risk humiliating himself.

Good thing I outsmarted my wife into making the first move.


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    Bars were very easy for me to navigate. I was underage and had fake I.D. It was actually issued to me from the DMV, but it was not my information…just my picture. I was tired of getting carded one night and not the next. I could always find a bar that was willing to serve me, but I had my favorites. So, with that out the way, I was nineteen by the time I had the I.D. problem solved.

    Because my name is Sandy, nobody batted an eye that my name was different on my I.D. as they assumed Sandy was a nickname anyhow and they knew I was underage as I looked about 16. They were no longer liable, which is all they cared about.

    I was fearless at that age. Although, I was comfortable with it, I found bar conversation inane. My thinking was that I couldn’t care less what you did for a living or anything about you except whether you were good in bed or not. If the sex was good, then I would bother to get to know you. Most people I knew were afraid of rejection. I knew people were just attracted to who they were attracted to, it wasn’t personal.

    So, if I found myself trapped in some inane bar chatter, I would just ask them if they wanted to have sex. If they didn’t, I moved on; if they did…well, we did. I would much rather spend the evening with my friends than take the time to get to know someone with no payoff. If they were up for sex, we would have plenty of time all night between sex to get to know each other. It worked really well for me. At 21, I started working in bars and always had someone lined up by closing time. When you are bartending, you are kind of on display and usually get to pick and choose. You have to be careful not to over serve your date as it gets close to closing time. Nobody wants to go home with a mess, not even bartenders.

    I always noticed the people who sort of just sat and waited for something to happen and I could have never done that. But, the moral of the story about me and bars is that sex was easy to get, a relationship was much more problematic. I suppose that is why I am alone today. Sure, I can go out and get laid tonight, but if I want more; it will be someone that I encounter in some other venue than a bar. The gym is probably my best bet and I would have to delay my gratification and ask them out on a real date.

    I want to settle down and build a life with someone. I just hope I haven’t waited too long for that. Your comment that “I have the social personality of an Asperger’s grizzly bear,” is pretty damned funny. It makes me think of Jerry on “Boston Legal.” Your discomfort in bars may have been one of the best things that ever happened to you. I don’t regret my experience, but my needs have changed over the years.

    So, Ryan, I think you were the lucky one if our goal is the same.


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    I'm a freelance writer and blogger based in Brooklyn, NY. My background is mostly in politics. I've worked on the editorial boards of the New York Sun and New York Post. In 2006, I wrote a book, "The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party" (Wiley). I've also done my share of freelancing, for places like the Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Reason, and RealClearPolitics.

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